Los Angeles Times
Thursday, October 26, 2000

El Salvador to Reopen Murder Probe

              Latin America: Attorney general, under pressure, will investigate an ex-president and others in 1989 slayings of six Jesuit priests.

              By JUANITA DARLING, Times Staff Writer

                   SAN SALVADOR--Under pressure from domestic and international courts, Atty. Gen. Belisario Artiga announced Wednesday
              that he will investigate a former president and other public officials to determine whether they ordered the 1989 murders of six Jesuit
              priests, their housekeeper and her daughter.
                   "We are asking [the court] for permission to investigate as masterminds former President Alfredo Cristiani and high-ranking
              military officers in the murder of the Jesuit priests," Artiga told reporters. He indicated that he expected to receive permission to
                   Besides Cristiani, he identified Col. Rene Emilio Ponce, a former defense minister; Gen. Rolando Zepeda, former vice minister of
              defense; Col. Orlando Montano, also a former vice minister of defense; Col. Francisco Helena Fuentes, former chief of the 1st
              Infantry Brigade; Col. Humberto Larios, a former defense minister; and Gen. Rafael Bustillo, a former air force commander.
                   The priests, all professors at the University of Central America here, were slain Nov. 16, 1989, in the midst of an offensive on the
              capital by leftist Marxist guerrillas.
                   The official investigation did not touch anyone above the rank of colonel. Two officers and four soldiers were convicted and
              served time in prison until released under a 1993 amnesty.
                   The Jesuit order and the university have insisted that the investigation did not go far enough to determine who ordered the killings.
              A United Nations truth commission report issued in 1992 found that Cristiani and the military officers met together shortly before the
                   Jesuits took their case to the San Jose, Costa Rica-based Inter-American Human Rights Court, which found in late 1999 that the
              Salvadoran government should reopen the investigation. At that time, Artiga refused, arguing that the statute of limitations had
              recently expired.
                   However, university Rector Jose Maria Tojeira said that because Salvadoran public officials have immunity from prosecution
              while in office, the statute of limitations does not begin to run until their terms end.
                   Artiga changed his mind after two courts decided in unrelated cases that a judge, and not the attorney general, should decide
              whether there is sufficient evidence to warrant an investigation.
                   "We believe that it is good that the law works," Tojeira said. "The attorney general is following proper procedure and
              investigating. Whether he will do it well or do it poorly, I don't know."
                   Wednesday's announcement comes at a time when survivors of the victims of crimes committed by the military during the 12-year
              civil war are seeking other means to win the justice they believe they have been denied.
                   Officials in charge of the Salvadoran army in 1980, when soldiers killed three nuns and a lay worker near the start of the civil
              war, are currently defendants in a Florida civil suit brought by the women's relatives.
                   The Jesuits have been looking into the possibility of filing suit in Spain because five of the slain priests were Spaniards. Those
              efforts will be postponed as long as an investigation proceeds in El Salvador, Tojeira said.
              Copyright 2000 Los Angeles Times